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Phoeniculidae - Wood Hoopoes & Scimitarbills

Wood Hoopoe
Green Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus purpureus ©Trevor Hardaker Website

The Phoeniculidae or Wood Hoopoes and Scimitarbills are a small African family of near passerine birds. They live south of the Sahara Desert and are not migratory. While the family is now restricted to Sub-Saharan Africa, fossil evidence shows that the it once had a larger distribution. Fossils attributed to this family have been found in Miocene rocks in Germany.

The wood hoopoes are related to the kingfishers, the rollers, and the hoopoe, forming a clade with this last according to Hackett et al. (2008). A close relationship between the hoopoe and the wood hoopoes is also supported by the shared and unique nature of their stapes. The wood hoopoes most resemble the true hoopoe with their long down-curved bills and short rounded wings. According to genetic studies, the two genera, Phoeniculus and Rhinopomastus, appear to have diverged about 10 million years ago, so some systematists treat them as separate subfamilies or even separate families.

The wood hoopoes are a morphologically distinct group, unlikely to be mistaken for any other. These species are medium-sized at 23cm to 46 cm long, much of which is the tail. They have metallic plumage, often blue, green or purple, and lack a crest. The sexes are similar in all but two species, the Forest Wood Hoopoe and the Common Scimitarbill. Their bills are either red or black, although young red-billed species also have black bills and bill colour is correlated with age. The legs are scarlet or black, short, with thick tarsi. They climb tree trunks in the manner of a woodpecker, and when feeding on the ground they hop rather than walking like the true hoopoe. Their tails are long and strongly graduated (the central feathers are the longest), and marked conspicuously with white, as are their wings.

They are birds of open woodland, savannah, or thornbrush, and are mainly arboreal. They require large trees both for feeding on as well as to provide hollows for nesting and nocturnal roosting. Two species are found exclusively in rainforest, the Forest Wood Hoopoe and the White-headed Wood Hoopoe. All the other species are found in more open woodland and bush.

They feed on arthropods, especially insects, which they find by probing with their bills in rotten wood and in crevices in bark. They nest in unlined tree holes, laying two to four eggs, which are blue, grey, or olive, and unmarked in most species.

There are generally considered to be just 9 species of Wood-hoopoes and Scimitarbills in the family Phoeniculidae; they are:

Forest Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus castaneiceps
White-headed Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus bollei
Green Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus purpureus
Black-billed Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus somaliensis
Violet Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus damarensis
Grant's Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus granti

Black Scimitarbill Rhinopomastus aterrimus
Common Scimitarbill Rhinopomastus cyanomelas
Abyssinian Scimitarbill Rhinopomastus minor

Family Links

Woodhoopoes Phoeniculidae

IBC Family Account

Full family account

Woodhoopoes Phoeniculidae

HBW Family Account

Annotated species list

Woodhoopoes Phoeniculidae

Family Account

The wood hoopoes and scimitarbills are a small African family, Phoeniculidae, of near passerine birds. They live south of the Sahara Desert and are not migratory. While the family is now restricted to Sub-Saharan Africa, fossil evidence shows that the it once had a larger distribution. Fossils attributed to this family have been found in Miocene rocks in Germany.

Species Links

Common Scimitarbill Rhinopomastus cyanomelas

BirdLife Species Account

Green Wood-hoopoe Phoeniculus purpureus

BirdLife Species Account

BirdLife species profile...

Common Scimitarbill Rhinopomastus cyanomelas

Species Account

The common scimitarbill (Rhinopomastus cyanomelas) is a species of bird in the family Phoeniculidae. It is found in Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Common Scimitarbill Rhinopomastus cyanomelas

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Falcinellus cyanomelas Vieillot, 1819, Orange River, Northern Cape Province, South Africa. Two subspecies currently recognized.

Common Scimitarbill Rhinopomastus cyanomelas

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Green Wood-hoopoe Phoeniculus purpureus

Species Account

The green wood hoopoe (Phoeniculus purpureus) is a large, up to 44 cm (17 in) long, near-passerine tropical bird native to Africa. It is a member of the family Phoeniculidae, the wood hoopoes, and was formerly known as the red-billed wood hoopoe.

Green Wood-hoopoe Phoeniculus purpureus

IUCN Species Status

Green Wood-hoopoe Phoeniculus purpureus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Green Wood-hoopoe Phoeniculus purpureus

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Promerops purpureus J. F. Miller, 1784, India and Africa = Cape Province, South Africa. Six subspecies recognized.

Abyssinian Scimitarbill Rhinopomastus minor

Species Account

The Abyssinian scimitarbill (Rhinopomastus minor) is a species of bird in the family Phoeniculidae. It is found in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Abyssinian Scimitarbill Rhinopomastus minor

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Promerops minor Rüppell, 1845, Shoa, central Ethiopia. Two subspecies currently recognized.

Abyssinian Scimitarbill Rhinopomastus minor

BirdLife Species Account

Abyssinian Scimitarbill Rhinopomastus minor

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Black Scimitarbill Rhinopomastus aterrimus

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Promerops aterrimus Stephens, 1826, Senegal. Four subspecies recognized.

Black Scimitarbill Rhinopomastus aterrimus

BirdLife Species Account

Black Scimitarbill Rhinopomastus aterrimus

Species Account

The black scimitarbill (Rhinopomastus aterrimus), also known as the black wood hoopoe, is a species of bird in the family Phoeniculidae.

Black Scimitarbill Rhinopomastus aterrimus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Forest Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus castaneiceps

BirdLife Species Account

Forest Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus castaneiceps

Species Account

The forest wood hoopoe (Phoeniculus castaneiceps) is a species of bird in the family Phoeniculidae. It is found in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda.

Forest Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus castaneiceps

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Irrisor castaneiceps Sharpe, 1871, Fanti, Ghana. Two subspecies currently recognized.

Forest Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus castaneiceps

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

White-headed Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus bollei

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

White-headed Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus bollei

Species Account

The white-headed wood hoopoe (Phoeniculus bollei) is a species of bird in the family Phoeniculidae. It is found in Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.

White-headed Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus bollei

BirdLife Species Account

White-headed Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus bollei

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Irrisor Bollei Hartlaub, 1858, Ashanti, Ghana. Relationships uncertain; previously thought perhaps closest to Rhinopomastus castaneiceps (see below). Race okuensis seems distinct, perhaps smaller and with some plumage differences (e.g. head pattern, scapular colour); further study needed. Three subspecies recognized.

Black-billed Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus somaliensis

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Black-billed Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus somaliensis

HBW Species Account

Irrisor somaliensis Ogilvie-Grant, 1901, Fer Libah, Ogaden, Ethiopia. Three subspecies recognized.

Black-billed Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus somaliensis

Species Account

The black-billed wood hoopoe (Phoeniculus somaliensis) is a species of bird in the Phoeniculidae family. It is native to eastern Africa where it is found in wooded and scrubby areas.

Black-billed Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus somaliensis

BirdLife Species Account

Violet Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus damarensis

Species Account

The violet wood hoopoe (Phoeniculus damarensis) is a species of bird in the Phoeniculidae family. It is found in Angola, Kenya, Namibia, and Tanzania.

Violet Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus damarensis

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Irrisor damarensis Ogilvie-Grant, 1901, Damaraland. Two subspecies recognized.

Violet Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus damarensis

BirdLife Species Account

Violet Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus damarensis

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Grant's Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus granti

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 9

Photographers & Artists

Green Wood-hoopoe Phoeniculus purpureus

Webpage

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